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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Barclay, Thomas (12 October 1753–21 April 1830), Loyalist and British commissioner and consul general, was born in New York City, the son of the Reverend Henry Barclay, rector of Trinity Church, and Mary Rutgers. His father was of Scottish and Dutch ancestry, and his mother was of Dutch descent. Both families descended from ancestors who settled in New York and New Jersey during the seventeenth century. Barclay in 1768 entered King’s College (now Columbia) where his father had been a founding trustee. Following graduation in 1772, he studied law under ...

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Dana, Francis (13 June 1743–25 April 1811), public official, diplomat, and jurist, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Dana, a lawyer, and Lydia Trowbridge. Francis entered Harvard College in 1758 and graduated in 1762. He received an M.A. from Harvard in 1765 at the same time that he was studying law in Cambridge with his uncle Edward Trowbridge. Dana was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1767 and became successful in his practice. In 1773 he married Elizabeth Ellery, daughter of ...

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Deane, Silas (24 December 1737–23 September 1789), diplomat and politician, was born in Groton, Connecticut, the son of Silas Dean, a second-generation blacksmith, and Sarah Barker. He was the eldest surviving child in a family deeply rooted in the agricultural and artisanal endeavors of the stable community on the banks of the Thames. His father served one term in the colonial assembly and saw his son through Yale by 1758. Soon thereafter the younger Silas moved to Wethersfield, a more vibrant community on the Connecticut River. There he taught school by day and studied law by night. He also added the final ...

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Hamilton, John (1740–12 December 1816), colonial merchant, Loyalist, and British consul, was born in Scotland. Nothing is known of his education. In 1756 he joined his brother Archibald in Nansemond County, Virginia, as a partner in a mercantile company, which included an uncle in Glasgow as a third partner. The Hamiltons extended their operations into North Carolina, where they established an extensive trading center at Hamilton Hill near Halifax; they had stores and warehouses for retail and wholesale trade in imported and colonial goods, a tavern, and shops for a blacksmith, a cooper, a hatter, and a tailor. By 1776 the Hamiltons, who operated under the name of John Hamilton and Company, had become the largest commercial house in the colony. Throughout its existence, the company maintained an excellent reputation with North Carolina farmers and merchants, who benefited from its ample provision of purchasing credit....

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Gouverneur Morris. Engraving by H. B. Hall, latter half of nineteenth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107076)

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Morris, Gouverneur (30 January 1752–06 November 1816), framer of the Constitution and diplomat, was born at the family manor, “Morrisania,” in what is now The Bronx, New York, the son of Lewis Morris, Jr., a judge of the court of vice-admiralty in New York, and his second wife, Sarah Gouverneur, daughter of a Speaker of the New York Assembly. His grandfather, ...

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Temple, John (Apr. 1732–17 November 1798), British imperial official, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Robert Temple, a colonial entrepreneur, and Mehitable Nelson. His exact date of birth is unknown, but he was baptized on 16 April 1732. He grew up on the family “Ten Hills” estate near Boston; there is no evidence that he was raised by his Grenville relatives in England. Temple did spend much of his early adulthood in London, seeking a lucrative appointment through Richard Grenville, Earl Temple, and his brother George Grenville, later to be prime minister. In 1761 he was named surveyor general of customs for the northern district of America, with supervision of all the customs officers from Newfoundland to New Jersey, and lieutenant governor of New Hampshire, a position with neither pay nor duties “that was created purposely,” he said, “to give me Rank in that Country.”...

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van Curler, Arent (1620– July 1667), colonial official and diplomat, was born in Nykerck, Gelderland, the Netherlands, the son of Hendrick van Curler and Nelle Gerrits. His parents were from upper-class families involved in politics and trade. Nothing is known of his childhood education. His great uncle Kiliaen Van Rensselaer described him as “still young and inexperienced” when he asked ...